Monday, 16 September 2013

Season of the apple

Better Seamus than me!
Saturday was the day to end all sunny days. Blue skies and warm autumn sunshine, warm enough to bring out the butterflies and bees that darted around the garden on the ivy and in the long grass, get the birds singing loudly, and better than all that it was the perfect day to pick apples.

Marys apple tree in Tallow is probably close to 100 years old,(her house is over 100 years old) but it's incredible just how productive it continues to be. Last year there were no apples, not a one, and she was very disappointed. This year almost by way of apology it has outdone itself, we ran out of fruit crates, ran out of boxes and finished up with 5 kg potato bags!

I have no idea what the variety is. I can only describe it as a cooker that blushes a nice shade of red on the southern side of the tree, not much of a description really, and I have been tempted to have it officially named if I could find someone to identify it. ISSA used to do it but I don't think they offer that service anymore. Just in case anything happens to it I have grafted it a few times and the new "Tallow wonder" trees are doing nicely. My sister in law got her first decent harvest from hers this year. I'm still at the pruning stage with mine, trying to imitate the open goblet shape of the original tree, perhaps the secret of its long productive life. Maybe its thanks to the deep loam soil and mild southern weather of County Waterford, or the walled garden it calls home, protecting spring flowers from late Spring frosts. The trees next door are still producing too despite absolutely no intervention for years and being surrounded by a forest of weeds!

the very best apples get their own VIP box
The great thing about helping Mary is the advanced "apple training" I have got over the last 12 years. After all that time I really understand that a  successful apple harvest depends on a few things, and these are the same things that apply to any gardeners harvest, especially long term storage crops.

First at the picking stage they must be picked with great care (treat them gently "like eggs" to quote Mary), putting them carefully into the collection bucket, leaving aside anything that falls as it is being picked and treating "fallen" apples as windfalls, not for storage.

Once the bucket comes to the ground the apples have to be sorted. Mary has 3-4 categories. Only the most perfect apples made the grade for long term storage, so sorting the apples according to their keeping qualities is really important. Even little holes present the opportunity for rot down the line so any apple with a hole won't make it to the storage shed. The most perfect apples are the VIPs, they are huge, blemish free, fat and satisfying. Most of these can fill a whole apple tart by themselves.

Mary sorting the apples at the apple "factory"
Next are the regular sized  apples, perfect for storage for at least six months although they will need to be checked over regularly.That old expression " one rotten apple rots the whole barrel" is really true when it comes to storing apples over many many months. If you don't check over them regularly you can lose a hole bag or box thanks to one stinker!

The third category is the almost perfect apples, with some small blemish tat means they cant be stored but at least 80-90% of the apple itself is perfectly good. These go into a use quickly category and get sent out to friends and relatives first as they wont keep for much longer than a week or two and will dis improve dramatically after that.

bucket ready for sorting
The last category are the windfalls, lots of bruises, chunks gouged out by birds and wasps and cracks from where they fell and hit the ground. These apples need to be used up asap, and usually Mary , God love her, makes a pile of apple jelly to use them up quickly before they rot away to nothing. For a few devoted apple lovers Mary will send out these windfalls first, with the promise of the better apples to come.

You would be amazed at how many people Mary manages to supply from this one tree. Her extended family in Limerick and Tipperary, neighbours, friends and now a supply extends to my mother in west Clare! Mary wouldn't see a single apple go to waste and I suppose its a testament to living through more frugal times even if on occasion Marys tales of war time rationing ( how many ounces of tea they were allowed!) remind me of Uncle Albert on Only fools and Horses!

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

The honey run

Jack has had a good year, well technically Jacks bees have had a good year. On a visit the other day I was allowed in to "the holy of holies" according to Jack (his honey extraction room) to see the harvest and even better to bottle/jar my own raw fresh honey.

It was a two person operation, Jack pulled the tap and I held the jars underneath. There is something fantastic about a stainless steel trough that yields thick flowing amber goo. The jars filled amazingly quickly and with all the talking we did it was easy to get caught out and find your hands covered in the stuff!! I got 11 beautiful jars full, all packed with pollen. Jack told me that the odd insect leg or egg, might be in here too, none of which bothers me, though my dear husband refused to eat it after I foolishly explained that to him! Regardless of whats in there overtime everything rises to the top where it can easily be scooped out before you dig in. Mind you I saw only small pieces of wax and nothing else in all the jars I filled myself.

Jacks commercial honey is cleaned of all this debris, but for hay fever sufferers like myself its better laden with the offending pollen as it helps build immunity against it in the long run. Once I got home there was only one thing left to do, break out the Greek yogurt, top it with walnuts and pour some of this fantastic honey fresh from the comb into the bowl.Could there be anything better?

is there anything nicer?

To Organise a visit to Jack see the details here Ryan's Honey Farm

Monday, 9 September 2013

Well fed and well watered in Letrim

Planting  winter salads in the glasshouse
"Lovely Letrim my hole!" Mike said when Eileen and myself told him we were off for the weekend to train with Klaus Leitenberger. Klaus who is a GIY Legend lives just under the shade of Benwiskin mountain across the Sligo border on the western tip of Letrim.For those of you who don't know many people deride poor County Letrim which is the least populated county in Ireland( probably because it seems to be the wettest place in Ireland too).In fairness to Mike who flat out refused to come, (he also had a number of cat and wheatgrass sitting duties for Eileen and Orla) he wasn't far wrong.A long sunny scenic three and a half hour drive from Limerick through Clare, Galway, and Sligo ended up cloudy and wet once we got to Letrim!

Maybe if the day had been fine and sunny it would have left a nice impression, but it was raining all bloody day, raining and cold, raining and cold and miserable, I'd go on but I think ye are getting the picture.Last time I was in Letrim for a weekend it rained all that weekend too. Maybe I am just unlucky in Letrim? Maybe it was a slight hangover and lack of sleep ( I'm a cheap night out before one of ye books me into AA).I must be getting conditioned to County Limerick, (being that much closer to the equator) which on the whole is mild and agreeable most of the time. I brought two sets of clothes, thermal winter and optimistic autumn, guess which ones I wore? The winter thermals of course!

some of the humongous tomatoes
In fairness to Klaus and Johanna we got a warm hospitable welcome. In the house fires blazed in all the hearths, and good warm cups of coffee and tea, with scones greeted us inside the door. In all 16 people were on the course across a range of knowledge and ability. What surprised me most was how many of them were absolute beginners, I had expected people with lots of experience here to pick his brain. After all he ran the Organic centre in Letrim, ran a successful market garden in the UK, appears on TV and does talks. Why aren't these lads doing beginners gardening courses first to get the basics and then go on one of these courses? The mind boggles.

The other thing that amazed me was the geography. People had travelled from Northern Ireland, Dublin, Wicklow, Waterford, Galway, Cork, all over the country. I thought we might be regarded as a bit mad for coming from Limerick! Ha!

looking across Johanna's pond to a rain soaked Benwiskin
No matter the weather we got an awful lot out of the day. The course was "Growing in Poly tunnels and Greenhouses" and was focused on what to grow through the winter months.Eileen and I tried to say as little as possible and just take it all in , but I was found myself wanting to ask loads of questions and had to somehow put a lid on it! I would love a few hours with Klaus to pick his brain, and he is so agreeable and nice it would be easily spent. He was still taking questions at half four, long after we should have been finished for the day with all the appearance of not minding at all which really says a lot about him . Johanna was lovely too. She made the most delicious three course meal for us for lunch-it was bloody hard work getting back up and going outside afterwards!

Klaus gives us a masterclass in his outdoor bog garden
So what did we cover?
  • We looked at tunnels and how to manage them for year round cropping with examples of how to do it with different succession crops.
  • The importance of choosing tunnel and glasshouse friendly varieties to prevent premature bolting, especially with root crops.
  • We ran through typical under cover crops with hints and tips for success with sowing them-this was excellent.
  • We found out how to make a German hill bed! Amazing stuff!
  • We went out to the glasshouse and looked at how it was built. We also did practical work, sowing, transplanting and pruning, and other hard work like tasting varieties of tomatoes, delicious salads and grapes!
  • Looked at Klaus's more unusual "Inca"crops, ( like tuberous nasturtiums) and why he grows them
  • Discussed the sweetest varieties of Tomatoes to grow and which to avoid!
  • Looked at techniques for saving your own seeds, recommended tools and techniques for cultivating good soil
  • and loads more!

I have pages and pages of notes! If you get a chance I highly recommend a day with Klaus, Johanna and their lovely kids. The next courses will run in 2014. He only does 4 a year so book early!

For courses and info on Klaus check out his website

Cool stuff I heard of on this class

Ladies check out Wild Wellied Women a group Klaus trained who run a box scheme in Letrim, an interesting model for women who want to grow food together and make a commercial venture out of it. Mary J I'm thinking of your neighbour with the old walled garden for this one, check it out!

It looks weird but Klaus demoed this garden "gark" tool that is some kind of mad cross between a spade and a rake. It is so cool! And apparently unbreakable-you can drive over it.Perfect for the accident inclined gardener!

Read all about what it can do here on the GIY website.